The Writings of Alfred Percy Sinnett
Alfred Percy Sinnett
THE historical Buddha, as known to the custodians of the esoteric doctrine, is a personage whose birth is not invested with the quaint marvels popular story has crowded round it. Nor was his progress to adeptship traced by the literal occurrence of the super-natural struggles depicted in symbolic legend. On the other hand, the incarnation, which may outwardly be described as the birth of Buddha, is certainly not regarded by occult science as an event like any other birth, nor the spiritual development through which Buddha passed during his earth-life a mere process of intellectual evolution, like the mental history of any other philosopher. The mistake which ordinary European writers make in dealing with a problem of this sort, lies in their inclinations to treat exoteric legend either as a record of a miracle about which no more need be said, or as pure myth, putting merely a fantastic decoration on a remarkable life. This, it is assumed, however remarkable, must have been lived according to the theories of Nature at present accepted by the nineteenth century. The account which has now been given in the foregoing pages may prepare the way for a statement as to what the esoteric doctrine teaches concerning the real Buddha, who was born, as modern investigation has quite correctly ascertained, 643 years before the Christian era, at Kapila-Vastu, near Benares.
Exoteric conceptions, knowing nothing of the laws which govern the operations of Nature in her higher departments, can only explain an abnormal dignity attaching to some particular birth, by supposing that the physical body of the person concerned was generated in a miraculous manner. Hence the popular notion about Buddha, that his incarnation in this world was due to an immaculate conception. Occult science knows nothing of any process for the production of a physical human child other than that appointed by physical laws; but it does know a good deal concerning the limits within which the progressive “one life,” or “spiritual monad,” or continuous thread of a series of incarnations may select a definite child-bodies as their human tenements. By the operation of Karma, in the case of ordinary mankind, this selection is made, unconsciously as far as the antecedent spiritual Ego emerging from Devachan is concerned. But in those abnormal cases where the one life has already forced itself into the sixth principle - that is to say, where a man has become an adept, and has the power of guiding his own spiritual Ego, in full consciousness as to what he is about, after he has quitted the body in which he won adeptship, either temporarily or permanently - it is quite within his power to select his own next incarnation. During life, even, he gets above the Devachanic attraction. He becomes one of the conscious directing powers of the planetary system to which he belongs, and great as this mystery of selected re-incarnation may be, it is not by any means restricted to its application to such extraordinary events as the birth of a Buddha. It is a phenomenon frequently reproduced by the higher adepts to this day; and while a great deal recounted in popular Oriental mythology is either purely fictitious or entirely symbolical, the re-incarnations of the Dalai and Teshu Lamas of Tibet, at which travelers only laugh for want of the knowledge that might enable them to sift fact from fancy, is a sober, scientific achievement. In such cases the adept states beforehand in what child, when and where to be born, he is going to re-incarnate, and he very rarely fails. We say very rarely, because there are some accidents of physical nature which cannot be entirely guarded against; and it is not absolutely certain that, with all the foresight even an adept may bring to bear upon the matter, the child he may choose to become - in his re-incarnated state - may attain physical maturity successfully. And, meanwhile, in the body, the adept is relatively helpless. Out of the body he is just what he has been ever since he became an adept; but as regards the new body he has chosen to inhabit, he must let it grow up in the ordinary course of Nature, and educate it by ordinary processes, and initiate it by the regular occult method into adeptship, before he has got a body fully ready again for occult work on the physical plane. All these processes are immensely simplified, it is true, by the peculiar spiritual force working within; but at first, in the child's body, the adept soul is certainly cramped and embarrassed, and, as ordinary imagination might suggest, very uncomfortable and ill at ease. The situation would be very much misunderstood if the reader were to imagine that re-incarnation of the kind described is a privilege which adepts avail themselves of with pleasure.
Buddha’s birth was a mystery of the kind described, and by the light of what has been said, it will be easy to go over the popular story of his miraculous origin, and trace the symbolic references to the facts of the situation in some even of the most grotesque fables. None, for example, can look less promising, as an allusion to anything like a scientific fact, than the statement that Buddha entered the side of his mother as a young white elephant. But the while elephant is simply the symbol of adeptship - something considered to be a rare and beautiful specimen of its kind. So with other ante-natal legends pointing to the fact that the future child's body had been chosen as the habitation of a great spirit already endowed with superlative wisdom and goodness. Indra and Brahma came to do homage to the child at his birth - that is to say, the powers of Nature were already in submission to the Spirit within him. The thirty-two signs of a Buddha, which legends describe by means of a ludicrous physical symbolism, are merely the various powers of adeptship.
The selection of the body known as Siddhartha, and afterwards as Gautama, son of Suddhodana, of Kapila-Vastu, as the human tenement of the enlightened human spirit, who had submitted to incarnation for the sake of teaching mankind, was not one of those rare failures spoken of above; on the contrary, it was a signally successful choice in all respects, and nothing interfered with the accomplishment of adeptship by the Buddha in his new body. The popular narrative of his ascetic struggles and temptations, and of his final attainment of Buddhahood under the Bo-tree, is nothing more, of course, than the exoteric version of his initiation.
From that period onward, his work was of a dual nature; he had to reform and revive the morals of the populace and the science of the adepts - for adeptship itself is subject to cyclic changes, and in need of periodical impulses. The explanation of this branch of the subject, in plain terms, will not alone be important for its own sake, but will be interesting to all students of exoteric Buddhism, as elucidating some of the puzzling complications of the more abstruse “Northern doctrine.”
A Buddha visits the earth for each of the seven races of the great planetary period. The Buddha with whom we are occupied was the fourth of the series, and that is why he stands fourth in the list quoted by Mr Rhys Davids, from Burnouf - quoted as an illustration of the way the Northern doctrine has been, as Mr Davids supposes, inflated by metaphysical subtleties and absurdities crowded round the simple morality which sums up Buddhism as presented to the populace. The fifth, or Maitreya Buddha, will come after the final disappearance of the fifth race, and when the sixth race will already have been established on earth for some hundreds of thousands of years. The sixth will come at the beginning of the seventh race, and the seventh towards the close of that race.
This arrangement will seem, at the first glance, out of harmony with the general design of human evolution. Here we are, in the middle of the fifth race, and yet it is the fourth Buddha who has been identified with this race, and the fifth will not come till the fifth race is practically extinct. The explanation is to be found, however, in the great outlines of the esoteric cosmogony. At the beginning of each great planetary period, when obscuration comes to an end, and the human tide-wave in its progress round the chain of worlds arrives at the shore of a globe where no humanity has existed for milliards of years, a teacher is required from the first for the new crop of mankind about to spring up. Remember that the preliminary evolution of the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms has been accomplished in preparation for the new round-period. With the first infusion of the life-current into the “missing link” species, the first race of the new series will begin to evolve. It is then that the Being, who may be considered the Buddha of the first race, appears. The Planetary Spirit, or Dhyân Chohan, who is - or, to avoid the suggestion of an erroneous idea by the use of a singular verb, let us defy grammar, and say, who are - Buddha in all his or their developments, incarnates among the young, innocent, teachable fore-runners of the new humanity, and impresses the first broad principles of right and wrong, and the first truths of the esoteric doctrine on a sufficient number of receptive minds, to ensure the continued reverberation of the ideas so implanted through successive generations of men in the millions of years to come, before the first race shall have completed its course. It is this advent in the beginning of the round-period of a Divine Being in human form that starts the ineradicable conception of the anthropomorphic God in all exoteric religions.
The first Buddha of the series in which Gautama Buddha stands fourth, is thus the second incarnation of Avaloketiswara - the mystic name of the hosts of the Dhyân Chohans or Planetary Spirits belonging to our planetary chain - and though Gautama is thus the fourth incarnation of enlightenment by exoteric reckoning, he is really the fifth of the true series, and thus properly belonging to our fifth race.
Avaloketiswara, as just stated, is the mystic name of the hosts of the Dhyân Chohans; the proper meaning of the word is manifested wisdom, just as Addi-Buddha and Amitabha both mean abstract wisdom.
The doctrine, as quoted by Mr Davids, that “every earthly mortal Buddha has his pure and glorious counterpart in the mystic world, free from the debasing conditions of this material life - or, rather, that the Buddha under material conditions is only an appearance, the reflection, or emanation, or type of a Dhyani Buddha” - is perfectly correct; the number of Dhyani Buddhas, or Dhyân Chohans, or planetary spirits, perfected human spirits of former world-periods, is infinite, but only five are practically identified in exoteric, and seven in esoteric, teaching, and this identification, be it remembered, is a manner of speaking which must not be interpreted too literally, for there is a unity in the sublime spirit-life in question that leaves no room for the isolation of individuality. All this will be seen to harmonize perfectly with the revelations concerning Nature embodied in previous chapters, and need not, in any way, be attributed to mystic imaginings. The Dhyani Buddhas, or Dhyân Chohans, are the perfected humanity of previous manwantaric epochs, and their collective intelligence is described by the name “Addi Buddha,” which Mr Rhys Davids is mistaken in treating as a comparatively recent invention of the Northern Buddhists. Addi-Buddha means primordial wisdom, and is mentioned in the oldest Sanscrit books. For example, in the philosophical dissertation on the “Mandukya Upanishad,” by Gowdapatha, a Sanscrit author contemporary with Buddha himself, the expression is freely used and expounded in exact accordance with the present statement. A friend of mine in India, a Brahmin pundit of first-rate attainments as a Sanscrit scholar, has shown me a copy of this book, which has never yet, that he knows of, been translated into English, and has pointed out a sentence bearing on the present question, giving me the following translation: “Prakriti itself, in fact, is Addi-Buddha, and all the Dharmas have been existing from eternity.” Gowdapatha is a philosophical writer respected by all Hindoo and Buddhist sects alike, and widely known. He was the guru, or spiritual teacher, of the first Sankaracharya, of whom I shall have to speak more at length very shortly.
Adeptship, when Buddha incarnated, was not the condensed, compact hierarchy that it has since become under his influence. There has never been an age of the world without its adepts; but they have sometimes been scattered throughout the world, they have sometimes been isolated in separate seclusions, they have gravitated now to this country, now to that; and finally, be it remembered, their knowledge and power has not always been inspired with the elevated and severe morality which Buddha infused into its latest and highest organization. The reform of the occult world by his instrumentality was, in fact, the result of his great sacrifice, of the self-denial which induced him to reject the blessed condition of Nirvana to which, after his earth-life as Buddha, he was fully entitled, and undertake the burden of renewed incarnations in order to carry out more thoroughly the task he had taken in hand, and confer a correspondingly increased benefit on mankind. Buddha re-incarnated himself, next after his existence as Gautama Buddha, in the person of the great teacher of whom but little is said in exoteric works on Buddhism, but without a consideration of whose life it would be impossible to get a correct conception of the position in the Eastern world of esoteric science - namely, Sankaracharya. The latter part of this name, it may be explained - acharya - merely means teacher. The whole name as a title is perpetuated to this day under curious circumstances, but the modern bearers of it are not in the direct line of Buddhist spiritual incarnations.
Sankaracharya appeared in India - no attention being paid to his birth, which appears to have taken place on the Malabar coast - about sixty years after Gautama Buddha’s death - about sixty years after Gautama Buddha’s death. Esoteric teaching is to the effect that Sankaracharya simply was Buddha in all respects, in a new body. This view will not be acceptable to the uninitiated Hindu authorities, who attribute a later date to Sankaracharya’s appearance, and regard him as a wholly independent teacher, even inimical to Buddhism; but none the less is the statement just made the real opinion of initiates in esoteric science, whether these call themselves Buddhists or Hindus. I have received the information I am now giving from a Brahmin Adwaiti of Southern India - not directly from my Tibetan instructor - and all initiated Brahmins, he assures me, would say the same. Some of the later incarnations of Buddha are described differently as overshadowings by the spirit of Buddha, but in the person of Sankaracharya he reappeared on earth. The object he had in view was to fill up some gaps and repair certain errors in his own previous teaching; for there is no contention in esoteric Buddhism that even a Buddha can be absolutely infallible at every moment of his career.
The position was as follows: - Up to the time of Buddha, the Brahmins of India had jealously reserved occult knowledge as the appanage of their own caste. Exceptions were occasionally made in favour of Tshatryas, but the rule was exclusive in a very high degree. This rule Buddha broke down, admitting all castes equally to the path of adeptship. The change may have been perfectly right in principle, but it paved the way for a great deal of trouble, and, as the Brahmins conceived, for the degradation of occult knowledge itself - that is to say, its transfer to unworthy hands, not unworthy merely because of caste inferiority, but because of the moral inferiority which they conceived to be introduced into the occult fraternity together with brothers of low birth. The Brahmin contention would not by any means be, that because a man should be a Brahmin, it followed that he was necessarily virtuous and trustworthy; but the argument would be: It is supremely necessary to keep out all but the virtuous and trustworthy from the secrets and powers of initiation. To that end it is necessary not only to set up all the ordeals, probations, and tests we can think of, but also to take no candidates except from the class which, on the whole, by reason of its hereditary advantages, is likely to be the best nursery of fit candidates.
Later experience is held on all hands now to have gone far towards vindicating the Brahmin apprehension, and the next incarnation of Buddha, after that in the person of Sankaracharya, was a practical admission of this; but meanwhile, in the person of Sankaracharya, Buddha was engaged in smoothing over, beforehand, the sectarian strife in India which he saw impending. The active opposition of the Brahmins against Buddhism began in Asoka’s time, when the great efforts made by that ruler to spread Buddhism provoked an apprehension on their part in reference to their social and political ascendency. It must be remembered that initiates are not wholly free in all cases from the prejudices of their own individualities. They possess some such god-like attributes that outsiders, when they first begin to understand something of these, are apt to divest them, in imagination, even too completely of human frailties. Initiation and occult knowledge, held in common, is certainly a bond of union, among adepts of all nationalities, which is far stronger than any other bond. But it has been found on more occasions than one to fail in obliterating all other distinctions. Thus the Buddhist and Brahmin initiates of the period referred to were by no means of one mind on all questions, and the Brahmins very decidedly disapproved of the Buddhist reformation in its exoteric aspects. Chandragupta, Asoka’s grandfather, was an upstart, and the family were Sudras. This was enough to render his Buddhist policy unattractive to the representatives of the orthodox Brahmin faith. The struggle assumed a very embittered form, though ordinary history gives us few or no particulars. The party of primitive Buddhism was entirely worsted, and the Brahmin ascendency completely re-established in the time of Vikramaditya, about 80 B.C. But Sankaracharya had traveled all over India in advance of the great struggle, and had established various mathams, or schools of philosophy, in several important centres. He was only engaged in this task for a few years, but the influence of his teaching has been so stupendous that its very magnitude disguises the change wrought. He brought exoteric Hinduism into practical harmony with the esoteric “wisdom religion,” and left the people amusing themselves still with their ancient mythologies, but leaning on philosophical guides who were esoteric Buddhists to all intents and purposes, though in reconciliation with all that was ineradicable in Brahminism. The great fault of previous exoteric Hinduism lay in its attachment to vain ceremonial, and its adhesion to idolatrous conceptions of the divinities of the Hindu Pantheon. Sankaracharya emphasized, by his commentaries on the Upanishads, and by his original writings, the necessity of pursuing gnyanam in order to obtain moksha - that is to say, the importance of the secret knowledge, to spiritual progress and the consummation thereof. He was the founder of the Vedantin system - the proper meaning of Vedanta being the final end or crown of knowledge - though the sanctions of that system are derived by him from the writings of Vyasa, the author of the “Mahabharata,” the “Puranas,” and the “Brahmasutras.” I make these statements, the reader will understand, not on the basis of any researches of my own - which I am not Oriental scholar enough to attempt - but on the authority of a Brahmin initiate who is himself a first-rate Sanscrit scholar as well as an occultist.
The Vedantin school at present is almost co-extensive with Hinduism, making allowance, of course, for the existence of some special sects, like the Sikhs, the Vallabacharyas, or Maharajah sect, of very unfair fame, and may be divided into three great divisions - the Adwaitees, the Vishishta Adwaitees, and the Dwaitees. The outline of the Adwaitee doctrine is that brahmum or purush, the universal spirit, acts only through prakriti, matter, that everything takes place in this way through the inherent energy of matter. Brahmum, or Parabrahm, is thus a passive, incomprehensible, unconscious principle, but the essence, one life, or energy of the universe. In this way the doctrine is identical with the transcendental materialism of the adept esoteric Buddhist philosophy. The name Adwaitee signifies not dual, and has reference partly to the non-duality, or unity of the universal spirit, or Buddhist one life, as distinguished from the notion of its operation through anthropomorphic emanations; partly to the unity of the universal and the human spirit. As a natural consequence of this doctrine, the Adwaitees infer the Buddhist doctrine of Karma, regarding the future destiny of man, as altogether depending on the causes he himself engenders.
The Vishishta Adwaitees modify these views by the interpolation of Vishnu as a conscious deity, the primary emanation of Parabrahm, Vishu being regarded as a personal god, capable of intervening in the course of human destiny. They do not regard yog, or spiritual training, as the proper avenue to spiritual achievement, but conceive this to be possible, chiefly by means of Bhakti, or devoutness. Roughly stated in the phraseology of European theology, the Adwaitee may thus be said to believe only in salvation by works, the Vishishta Adwaitee in salvation by grace. The Dwaitee differs but little from the Vishishta Adwaitee, merely affirming, by the designation he assumes, with increased emphasis the duality of the human spirit and the highest principle of the universe, and including many ceremonial observances as an essential part of Bhakti.
But all these differences of view, it must be borne in mind, have to do merely with the exoteric variations on the fundamental idea, introduced by different teachers with varying impressions as to the capacity of the populace for assimilating transcendental ideas. All leaders of Vedantin thought look up to Sankaracharva and the mathams he established with the greatest possible reverence, and their inner faith runs up in all cases into the one esoteric doctrine. In fact the initiates of all schools in India interlace with one another. Except as regards nomenclature, the whole system of cosmogony, as held by the Buddhist-Arhats, and as set forth in this volume, is equally held by initiated Brahmins, and has been equally held by them since before Buddha’s birth. Whence did they obtain it? the reader may ask. Their answer would be from the Planetary Spirit, or Dhyân Chohan, who first visited this planet at the dawn of the human race in the present round-period - more millions of years ago than I like to mention on the basis of conjecture, while the real exact number is withheld.
Sankaracharya founded four principal mathams, one at Sringari, in Southern India, which has always remained the most important; one at Juggernath, in Orissa; one at Dwaraka, in Kathiawar; and one at Gungotri, on the slopes of the Himalayas in the North. The chief of the Sringari temple has always borne the designation Sankaracharya, in addition to some individual name. From these four centres others have been established, and mathams now exist all over India, exercising the utmost possible influence on Hinduism.
I have said that Buddha, by his third incarnation, recognized the fact that he had, in the excessive confidence of his loving trust in the perfectibility of humanity, opened the doors of the occult sanctuary too widely. His third appearance was in the person of Tsong-ka-pa, the great Tibetan adept reformer of the fourteenth century. In this personality he was exclusively concerned with the affairs of the adept fraternity, by that time collecting chiefly in Tibet.
From time immemorial there had been a certain secret region in Tibet, which to this day is quite unknown to and unapproachable by any but initiated persons, and inaccessible to the ordinary people of the country as to any others, in which adepts have always congregated. But the country generally was not in Buddha’s time, as it has since become, the chosen habitation of the great brotherhood. Much more than they are at present, were the Mahatmas in former times, distributed about the world. The progress of civilization, engendering the magnetism they find so trying, had, however, by the date with which we are now dealing - the fourteenth century - already given rise to a very general movement towards Tibet on the part of the previously dissociated occultists. Far more widely than was held to be consistent with the safety of mankind was occult knowledge and power then found to be disseminated. To the task of putting it under the control of a rigid system of rule and law did Tsong-ka-pa address himself.
Without re-establishing the system on the previous unreasonable basis of caste exclusiveness, he elaborated a code of rules for the guidance of the adepts, the effect of which was to weed out of the occult body all but those who sought occult knowledge in a spirit of the most sublime devotion to the highest moral principles.
An article in the Theosophist for March, 1882, on “Re-incarnations in Tibet,” for the complete trustworthiness of which in all its mystic bearings I have the highest assurance, gives a great deal of important information about the branch of the subject with which we are now engaged, and the relations between esoteric Buddhism and Tibet, which cannot be examined too closely by any one who desires an exhaustive comprehension of Buddhism in its real signification.
“The regular system,” we read, “of the Lamaic incarnations of ‘Sangyas’ (or Buddha) began with Tsong-kha-pa. This reformer is not the incarnation of one of the five celestial Dhyanis or heavenly Buddhas, as is generally supposed, said to have been created by Sakya Muni after he had risen to Nirvana, but that of Amita, one of the Chinese names for Buddha. The records preserved in the Gon-pa (lamasery) of Tda-shi Hlum-po (spelt by the English Teshu Lumbo) show that Sangyas incarnated himself in Tsong-kha-pa in consequence of the great degradation his doctrines had fallen into. Until then there had been no other incarnations than those of the five celestial Buddhas, and of their Boddhisatvas, each of the former having created (read, overshadowed with his spiritual wisdom) five of the last named . . . . . It was because, among many other reforms, Tsong-kha-pa forbade necromancy (which is practiced to this day with the most disgusting rites by the Bhöns - the aborigines of Tibet, with whom the Red Caps or Shammars had always fraternized) that the latter resisted his authority. This act was followed by a split between the two sects. Separating entirely from the Gyalukpas, the Dugpas (Red Caps), from the first in a great minority, settled in various parts of Tibet, chiefly its border-lands, and principally in Nepaul and Bhootan. But, while they retained a sort of independence at the monastery of Sakia-Djong, the Tibetan residence of their spiritual (?) chief, Gong-sso Rimbo-chay, the Bhootanese have been from their beginning the tributaries and vassals of the Dalai Lamas.
“The Tda-shi Lamas were always more powerful and more highly considered than the Dalai Lamas. The latter are the creation of the Tda-shi Lama, Nabang-lob-sang, the sixth incarnation of Tsong-kha-pa, himself an incarnation of Amitabha or Buddha.”
Several writers on Buddhism have entertained a theory, which Mr Clements Markham formulates very fully in his “Narrative of the Mission of George Bogle to Tibet,” that whereas the original Scriptures of Buddhism were taken to Ceylon by the son of Asoka, the Buddhism which found its way into Tibet from India and China was gradually overlaid with a mass of dogma and metaphysical speculation. And Professor Max Müller says: - “The most important element in the Buddhist reform has always been its social and moral code, not its metaphysical theories. That moral code, taken by itself, is one of the most perfect which the world has ever known; and it was this blessing that the introduction of Buddhism brought into Tibet.”
“The blessing,” says the authoritative article in the Theosophist, from which I have just been quoting, “has remained and spread all over the country, there being no kinder, purer-minded, more simple, or sin-fearing nation than the Tibetans. But for all that, the popular lamaism, when compared with the real esoteric, or Arahat, Buddhism of Tibet, offers a contrast as great at the snow trodden along a road in the valley to the pure and undefiled mass which glitters on the top of a high mountain peak.”
The fact is, that Ceylon is saturated with exoteric, and Tibet with esoteric, Buddhism. Ceylon concerns itself merely or mainly with the morals, Tibet, or rather the adepts of Tibet, with the science, of Buddhism.
These explanations constitute but a sketch of the whole position. I do not possess the arguments nor the literary leisure which would be required for its amplification into a finished picture of the relations which really subsist between the inner principles of Hinduism and those of Buddhism. And I am quite alive to the possibility that many learned and painstaking students of the subject will have formed, as the consequences of prolonged and erudite research, conclusions with which the explanations I am now enabled to give, may seem at first sight to conflict. But none the less are these explanations directly gathered from authorities to whom the subject is no less familiar in its scholarly than in its esoteric aspect. And their inner knowledge throws a light upon the whole position which wholly exempts them from the danger of misconstruing texts and mistaking the bearings of obscure symbology. To know when Gautama Buddha was born, what is recorded of his teaching, and what popular legends have gathered round his biography, is to know next to nothing of the real Buddha, so much greater than either the historical moral teacher, or the fantastic demigod of tradition. And it is only when we have comprehended the link between Buddhism and Brahaminism that the greatness of the esoteric doctrine rises into its true proportions.
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